The video “Killing Us Softly 31” contains many important statements regarding advertising and women’s body image. One of them that stood out to me in particular was the message that advertisements both trivialize and romanticize violence against women. Kilbourne also suggests that advertising is America’s pornography; sex is used to sell everything. She also believes that our culture’s qualities are consistently divided into masculine and feminine, with feminine qualities being devalued or de-humanized. Advertising tells us who we are and who we should be, and what is most important about women is how we look. Given this state of affairs, failure is inevitable because we all have flaws. Beauty is equated with being powerful, but that power is short-lived because we all change as we age.
The connection between advertising and women’s body image is that advertising presents powerful messages to women, beginning when young girls reach puberty and are taught through commercials that, as one ad said, “the more you subtract, the more you add.” The covert message in that statement is that the more weight one loses, the more one gains in prestige. In other words, also, the less noise one makes, the better it is, ultimately. Advertising communicates to women that they should be passive, as indicated by the many advertisements that were shown in the video where women’s hands were literally covering their mouths, with captions suggesting that the less the women say, the more desirable they are to men. Regarding that last statement, advertisements also suggests that the most desirable outcome for any woman is being associated with a man. Women are objectified, often appearing in the ads either faceless, shown only using certain body parts with no face, or showing women from the neck down, only a body with no identity.
Kilbourne suggests that men and women inhabit very different worlds, and one significant difference is that men’s bodies are not scrutinized in the way that women’s bodies are. One advertisement that was used in her video was an example of the way she believes more ads should present issues: a series of men looked into the camera, making comments about their bodies that are typical of women: does this make me look fat? Does my behind look big in this outfit? The refreshing message to that ad was that women should not be so self-critical and should simply accept themselves, that the world contains many different types of people, shapes and sizes, and that they are all of value. Included in Kilbourne’s video was the message that racial identity also plays a part in the devaluation of people in advertisements, with minorities being in the less powerful, less desirable, less assertive positions than those who are white and more powerful simply because of their white privileged status.
As stated, a significant part of the video covers the objectification or dehumanizing of women, such as showing only certain body parts in advertisements, and Kilbourne’s conclusion is that when a group is dehumanized, it becomes easier to justify violence against that group. Ads that contain messages such as this give permission to be violent. Some of the ads that appeared in the video that conveyed this dangerous message showed men grabbing onto a woman’s hair and pulling her head back, a woman standing in the foreground with a man lurking in the background suggesting an assault, and even a man pointing a gun at a woman as if that is a normal and acceptable scenario in the relationships between the genders.
In the video, Kilbourne discusses America’s obsession with breasts, which appear in virtually every sort of ad for every product aimed at a male audience. The size, shape, location, image of a woman’s breasts are never acceptable, according to the ads. Because society puts such a premium on having perfect breasts, a svelte body, and a perfect behind, girls’ self-esteem suffers when they hit adolescence while boys do not experience the same decline in their self image. On the contrary, in ads boys look tough, confident, challenging while the commercials showing girls and women only display demure, shy, quiet and again, passive females as if that is the ideal. In addition to the focus on breasts, there is also the emphasis on thinness, and contempt for heavier women. The ads imply that the thinner the woman is, the happier and more successful she will be in associating herself with a man. Again, this was emphasized in the tagline, “the more you subtract, the more you add.”
Kilbourne’s solution to this problem, the sexism inherent in many ads, is that there needs to be a new culture that develops in which the public becomes more educated about its status, and people have the ability to think of themselves as citizens rather than consumers. She believes that what is at stake is the capacity to make choices freely about how to live our lives, rather than having the norms dictated to us by the messages conveyed through advertisements. In my opinion, this would indeed be an improvement so that if advertisements were less gender-specific and stereotypical in regards to gender, people would be able to make decisions about what they wanted to buy based on factors about the product, not the covert sexual messages appearing in advertisements. For example, instead of the sexist ads such as the one featuring the woman whose body was a bottle of alcohol, the same company could produce an advertisement showing someone pouring the drink into a glass and emphasizing how refreshing and thirst-quenching the product is. Products for beauty such as lipstick could be advertised with more of an emphasis on women looking attractive for their own pleasure, such as applying it and simply lying on the sofa, reading or watching TV, for an evening clearly meant to be spent alone. Removing the sexual overtones from advertisements would allow the product to stand on its own in terms of its actual value as well as appeal to the perspective buyers.